Phil Vettel, a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, joined Tribune Company (at Suburban Trib) in 1979, and has been The Tribune’’s restaurant critic since 1989. He has a wife and two sons, one or more of whom often accompany Phil on his culinary adventures. He also makes a mean egg-salad sandwich.

Recent Articles
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    Phil Vettel reviews The Barn

    EVANSTON, Ill. — Nostalgia is great if you get the dosage right. The Barn, the latest Evanston restaurant by Amy Morton (Found), pretty much does. There’s enough yesteryear to the place to stir rosy-hued memories, but not so much that the restaurant loses its sense of the present. And that’s the balance one has to strike; overindulge in a bygone era, and you risk reminding everybody why it died out in the first place. The old-timey touches start early. You reach […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Arami

    CHICAGO — Chicago is awash in restaurants one visits strictly for sushi, and then those that handle noodle dishes and other hot items well but where sushi and sashimi are afterthoughts, if they’re available at all. Arami, however, is one of the best-balanced Japanese restaurants in Chicago, a multi-tooled player, much in the manner of Katsu or Momotaro (still the best, in my view), where the sushi bar and hot kitchen both operate at high levels, helped along by a surprisingly […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Smyth

    CHICAGO, Ill. — You couldn’t ask for a better homecoming than the one that John B. Shields and his wife, Karen Urie Shields, have created on Ada Street. John was sous-chef for Charlie Trotter for two years, then was sous-chef for Grant Achatz for the first two years of Alinea. Karen was pastry sous-chef under Gale Gand at Tru for two years before jumping to Trotter’s for five, the last two as head pastry chef. When the Shieldses left Chicago […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews The Loyalist

    CHICAGO, Ill. — The Loyalist, the “other” restaurant by chefs John Shields and Karen Urie Shields, sits a floor below Smyth, the duo’s fine-dining room. The Loyalist is Mary Ann to Smyth’s Ginger; Betty to Smyth’s Veronica. You’re dazzled by Veronica, but Betty’s more fun to hang out with. The Loyalist is a drop-in-anytime kind of place (though reservations are accepted, walk-ins are encouraged), dark as a grotto and outfitted with long bar-height tables (seated communally), a few booths, and stools […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews GT Prime

    CHICAGO — GT Prime is either the steakhouse you will avoid or the steakhouse you’ve been waiting for. Reinventing the American steakhouse has been something of a cottage industry in the last few years. RPM Steak, Swift & Sons, Maple & Ash and others have upgraded and tweaked the steakhouse experience with contemporary cocktail offerings, chef-driven side dishes and non-beef entrees. Giuseppe Tentori, whose monogram also graces the ever-reliable GT Fish & Oyster, has taken an even bolder approach. GT […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews fourteensixteen

    LAGRANGE, Ill. — When I first stopped into La Grange’s fourteensixteen, shortly after its early-September opening, I thought that, well, it would do. The restaurant felt more concept-driven than chef-driven, its decor assembled by checklist, its “New American Craft” manifesto (printed on the menu) a bit too earnest (and a masterwork of gobbledygook besides). I still have some of those issues with the place, but on my return visits, executive chef Bret Bohning has shown sparks in his cooking that […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Claudia’s

    It takes a little effort to dine at Claudia, which has been entertaining diners, a scant handful at a time, for close to two years. Chef/owner Trevor Teich hosts fixed-price, multi-course dinners just two Sundays each month (in the early days, it was fewer than that); each Sunday features two seatings, each serving no more than 16 guests. Sixty-four covers a month spells doom for most restaurants; at Claudia, that’s a sellout. Teich may be a name with which you’re […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews El Che Bar

    CHICAGO, Ill. — John Manion has been sharing his love of South American cuisine since the last century, from Mas, the nuevo Latino he opened in 1999 (following up with Otro Mas a couple of years later), to La Sirena Clandestina, the Brazilian-ish Fulton Market restaurant that debuted nearly four years ago. And now there is El Che Bar, Manion’s salute to outdoor cooking, especially the churrascos and parrilladas of his Brazilian childhood, but with a more Argentine focus. “This […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Giant

    CHICAGO, Ill. — Sortallini. That dish tells you just about all you need to know about 2-month-old Giant and Jason Vincent, iconoclastic chef and partner. It’s a delicious, cheese-filled tortellini, fleshed out with guanciale, pine nuts and a light sauce with basil and tomatoes. But rather than the familiar circular shape, the pasta packets are formed from rectangles. (Vincent couldn’t stand the waste from circular cuts, he said.) So, strictly speaking, it’s not tortellini. But it’s “sort of” tortellini, and thus […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Honey’s

    CHICAGO, Ill. — I’m really going to miss Honey’s. Not that I expect anything but a long, successful life for the Market District newcomer, which opened in early June. It’s not them. It’s me. One of the very few disadvantages of being a restaurant critic is the inability to be anyone’s regular customer. After I visit a place a few times and write my review, it’s time to move on. So many new restaurants, so little time. (Feel sorry for […]